Goodbye, Mr. Lonnie

Clifford Wiedman, an employee of Stanley Jigs, (L) and Lonnie Stanley (R) share time in a bass boat.

I lost a good friend on Friday when Lonnie Stanley died. A lot of people lost a good friend on Friday when Lonnie Stanley died.

That’s because, as far as I can tell, Lonnie Stanley had no enemies, just friends he had not met yet. Despite competing in a sport that is cutthroat on the water, and being an innovator in an industry that is equally ruthless, Lonnie only seemed to see the best in people. As a corollary to that, I never heard anyone say a bad word about him, although many had an opportunity to do so.

I know that as a writer I have the power to help or hurt people. As such, I can never be 100% sure who my true friends might be. If I were to stop writing for Bassmaster tomorrow, I’m sure there are some I’d never hear from again. I never had any such doubts with Lonnie. Despite having an open invitation to do so, he never asked me for anything. The only thing he’d ask when I’d call is, “When are you coming here to go fishing?” I regret that I only took him up on that offer twice.

Indeed, he was a giver, not a taker. When I’d call excitedly to tell him about my latest catch – whether it came on a Stanley Lure or not – he was excited to talk about it. If I mentioned that I’d whacked ‘em on a black Top Toad, I could be almost sure that the next week a giant box of black Top Toads would show up. Yes, he sent me more tackle than I could ever use in two lifetimes, but the treasured part was that somewhere in the package there’d always be a handwritten note. It would thank me for all I do, explain something about the history of the lures he’d sent, and end with some variation of “When are you coming here to go fishing?” 

I’ve already written in this space about my time on the water with Lonnie, so I won’t repeat that. Nor will I provide a list of his many accomplishments here, as those will likely spill out in the other obituaries and remembrances published this week, but I do want to stress the importance of time. As the past year and a half have shown us, longevity is not guaranteed, no matter what precautions you take. Lonnie wasn’t even that old, just 76. Despite having lived a very full and accomplished life, he still had a lot to give. With that in mind, I ask you to consider a few things: 

First, take an “old guy” fishing. We tend to want to fish with people in our peer group. Furthermore, as technology has exploded, the threshold for becoming an expert or an innovator has skewed younger. We increasingly look to the college kids and the youngest pros to set trends. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of learning from our elders. Nothing can replace time on the water, and those with the most of it have a lot to give – and you’ll be surprised at how freely many of them offer it up.

Second, we need to celebrate, promote and preserve the sport of bass fishing. That’s the mandate of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, of which I am a volunteer board member. In the few short years that I’ve been involved with the Hall, we’ve made great strides toward making a greater impact, but there’s still a long way to go. A big part of that will come in recognizing people like Lonnie, which I hope happens sooner rather than later. Several of the pros I fished with in my early days of the mid-90s have left us in recent years. Some, like Ken Cook, have been celebrated. Others, like Lonnie and David Wharton, I fear may be forgotten if we don’t step up our efforts.

On that last point, please take your time to comb not only the archives for a great record of the history of our sport, but also the treasure trove available at the Bass Fishing Archives. It’s run by my friend Terry Battisti, and while I was an occasional early contributor, it’s truly his baby. As with the efforts of the Hall’s Board of Directors, it’s a labor of love. All you need to do is click a few times and engage – not just you old guys (like me) who saw some of the history firsthand, but also you younger fans who should know the path that the sport has traveled.

I hope that this is not too much of an ask. After all, if you’ve read this far, you probably care a lot about the sport – where it’s going as well as where it came from. Our legitimacy and strength comes through our numbers. While I’m sad that Lonnie won’t be there if and when he is eventually inducted into the Hall, we can start to overcome those failures by working now to ensure that he’ll be remembered as one of the good guys by everyone who’s there when that happens, even if they never had the opportunity to fish with him. 

Oh, one more thing: If a living legend like Lonnie asks you, “When are you coming here to go fishing?” don’t put it off until tomorrow. Take advantage of that generosity as often as you can.